Contest #201 shortlist ⭐️



This story contains sensitive content

Warning: mentions of self harm, physical violence, and abuse.

So, you’re my lawyer? Hmm. Considering how much my father is paying you, you’d better be good.

I’ll be level with you: everyone has their price. From the taxi drivers who will chase idols across Seoul, to the airline agents who will leak the flight details for different groups, to the apartment building residents who will sell the addresses of their famous neighbors - any information and any favor is just a matter of money.

Of course, I don’t expect you to be surprised. You’ve probably seen it all in your line of work.

The day that my father acquired the majority share of TelePon Industries, he told me something I never forgot: “If you don’t know what something is about, then it’s about money.” In my experience, that piece of wisdom has almost always been true.

Westerners - Americans in particular - act so scandalized by our behavior. They’re no better. I went to LA the year that SuperNova performed at KCON. I saw how the Americans bought maps pinpointing the locations of celebrities' houses, or how they took guided tours to see them. They were desperate for a brush with the people that they made famous. So are we. The only thing keeping them from getting a closer look - the only thing keeping them from becoming like us - are the Hollywood hills and the mansion gates. Korea doesn’t have the land that America does. That means that there are no hills in Seoul to keep houses out of reach. There isn’t space for massive properties with gates to lock out fans. When idols live in regular apartment buildings, and it takes four hours to drive across the entire country, then you realize that the people that you made famous and keep relevant are at your fingertips. Who wouldn’t go see the stars that they created?

You’re a lawyer in Seoul. I’m sure you’ve seen it in the buildings you’ve lived in: fans camped outside or loitering around in the lobby, waiting to see their Oppa. I used to do it too, before I realized there were smarter ways. I can’t tell you the hours, the days, the weeks I spent waiting for the tiniest glimpse of Ji-yong. It was time wasted.

There’s such an uproar - Westerners, again, are the most annoying about this - that it’s invasive. That people deserve privacy. Here’s the thing: the people saying this don’t even pretend to act like they don’t do it themselves. If they’re not reading articles featuring paparazzi photos, then they’re scrolling through blogs from regular people who snapped photos on the street. They eat up every last crumb, but they never stop to think about who took the pictures. The paparazzi and the clout chasers, they don’t care about the people they’re taking pictures of. They do it for the paycheck or the clicks or the views.

We care. We love our Oppas. That’s why we do it.

You’re a smart guy. Sasaeng, made up of sa and saeng - private and life. The name implies we violate an idol’s private living. That’s insulting. This isn’t the first time that someone has become famous. They know what to expect! That’s the deal they made. They want to become famous, but they can’t become famous without their fans. Their success is because of us. They’re ours.

And before we get too far into this conversation, I want to make it clear that I’m not one of the crazy ones. You know, the girls who sliced their fingers to write letters in blood and mailed it to their biases. The girls who collected their tears or their menstrual blood and presented it as a gift. Anything involving bodily fluids, really - those are the girls that need professional help.

I’m also not one of the stupid ones. Let the record show that I have never gone to the airport to swarm SuperNova, or any other idol group for that matter. Why push and shove your way through a crowd of berserk fangirls just to maybe touch Ji-yong’s shirt when you could be on the same flight as him? Like I said, there are airline agents who will give up details for a little bit of cash. I told you that I was in LA when SuperNova performed at KCON. As if I would travel so far to see them and not get on the same flight.

I also have zero affiliation with the Nebulas - SuperNova fans - who broke into their hotel room and bugged their bathroom. Are they idiots? All that work just to get audio of their Oppas taking a shit? Morons.

That being said, there were Nebulas I worked with. Smart ones. Ones who were creative and resourceful and had their heads on straight. We didn’t know each other’s real names, but we used codes: Pinky, Blondie, Pearl, and Kumquat. We weren’t totally anonymous because we had seen each other at almost every SuperNova fansign or meetup, but it made us feel a little more protected.

Pinky - you may have heard of this incident - she was the one who shaved her head and dressed like a boy to follow SuperNova into the bathroom. She earned points with me on creativity and commitment, but lost points on the follow through. All that for a picture and an autograph that she could have gotten at a fansign?

Blondie was clever enough not to install a hidden camera in Ji-yong’s apartment, but in his garage. It took months before he realized anything, and we could watch him coming and going at any time. It was such a wonderful thing while it lasted.

To be blunt, Pearl was fairly useless until two years ago. We assumed that she had made some key contacts, or learned who to pay off for information, because she suddenly had SuperNova’s entire schedule. She knew what food they ordered, where they were filming MVs, what variety shows they were going to be on. She knew their every movement.

I, of course, was Kumquat. I had the most money, and frankly, I had the most brains.

I think it all began at the last SuperNova fansign. It was for their latest mini album, Paint Me. It had been ages since their last comeback. We were kind of disappointed that it was only a mini, but once I saw that the title track was written by Ji-yong, I loved it immediately. I didn’t even have to listen to it to know that it was a masterpiece.

We ate up the teaser photos and the album spoilers. Day after day, the label released photos of each member painted in different tints and tones of a color, and we dissected the symbolism behind each choice. Young Soul was painted blue, and we decided that it showed his maturity, his calm, and his love of the ocean. D-Sung was red for his passion, his hot-headedness, and his fondness for tteokbokki. Seung-hyun was yellow for his extroversion, his boldness, and his penchant for banana milk. Ji-yong was white, and while the other girls thought that it symbolized his mutability and his sponsorship with Milkis milk soda, I knew that it meant more. The white meant his purity, his tranquility, his wisdom. It was a sign that even the label knew he was the best in the group.

I listened to all of SuperNova’s songs in order. I always did that in anticipation of a new release: just me in my bedroom, surrounded by Ji-yong’s face, listening to his voice. His talent never failed to wow me - his clever wordplay and his cheeky humor, all wrapped up in his caramel voice. I felt his sorrow in his ballads. I felt his fearlessness in his rapping. By the time I had listened to everything again, I was trembling on my bed with tears running down my face. How can I describe what it’s like to understand and feel Ji-yong so deeply, and to know that none of it would be possible without you?

When the album pre-order went live, we all bought dozens and dozens of copies so we would have multiple entries into the fansign lottery. I always bought eighty-six albums because Ji-yong’s birthday is August 6th. It seemed to be lucky for both of us, because I always got in. This time was no exception.

When it was time for the fansign, I didn’t scream or shout or cry. I lined up according to my lottery number and waited quietly. I went down the line and greeted Young Soul, D-Sung, and Seung-hyun. I was respectful and thanked them for working hard, even if I actually thought that D-Sung needed to pull his own weight vocally and Seung-hyun’s style was getting too eccentric for my taste. They thanked me and signed my album, but honestly, I didn't really care that they were there. I only had eyes for my Oppa, Ji-yong.

At last, it was time. I had been daydreaming about it. I had been to so many fansigns that I knew exactly what would happen: I would hand my album to Ji-yong. While he signed it, I would thank him for his hard work and pledge my everlasting support. He would hand the album back to me and smile. He would smile at me. A smile just for me. It was always the best feeling in the world. It felt like someone had mixed together golden sunshine and melted honey and carbonated water. I always left the fansigns feeling like I was floating.

But this time, something was different. Something went wrong. Ji-yong looked up at me as he took my copy of Paint Me, and I swear that there was a flash of something in his eyes. He looked wary, or maybe tired, or maybe even guarded. I told him how much I loved and supported him, but I don’t think my words made it to his ears. When he gave my album back, he didn’t quite meet my gaze. His smile - usually so full of warmth and charm - flickered across his face for a second, and he turned to greet the girl behind me.

I was frozen. I was shocked. Security had to come over and escort me out of the fansign because I was holding up the line. There’s a chance that I may have been yelling a bit. Ji-yong…didn’t really acknowledge me. He rushed through our time together. He didn’t smile at me - at least, not like he used to. Not like I knew he could.

All the albums I bought to be there that day - all the albums I bought over the years! Eighty-six copies of every album he released. Studio albums, mini albums, Christmas albums, plus their repackages. Not to mention photobooks, paper fans, photocards, lightsticks, posters, socks embroidered with a chibi version of him, the bottles of Milkis with his face on it…I had everything. I made it to every fansign he was at. I shouted fan chants when he performed on music shows. I got on the same flight as him and followed him to LA…and he wouldn’t smile at me?

I made him. He was nothing without me.

Pinky and Blondie were at the fansign, and they saw the slight ruckus caused by my removal. Pearl wasn’t there, but she seemed sympathetic when we filled her in. The three agreed that I deserved another chance at talking to Ji-yong. I didn’t tell them exactly what I had in mind.

This is the part that you’re interested in, right? We’ve finally gotten to the part that you think is relevant.

Like I said, Pearl seemed to understand. She told me that SuperNova was filming a variety show the next day, and she knew the location: a fairly rural town outside of Seoul. More specifically, that was the day they were filming in a farmer’s market. When I got there, it was full of regular shoppers looking at fruits and vegetables. A camera crew was near the four members of SuperNova, but it didn’t look like there was a lot of security. Access to them was pretty open. Pretty much anyone could have walked up to them.

So I did. I walked right up to Ji-yong and I offered him a bottle of Milkis. 

I had cut my hair and worn a hat, but maybe all of that was unnecessary, because he took it without so much as looking at my face.

If he had taken the time to read the label, maybe he would have seen my note: You are nothing without the fans you smile at. I’m disappointed. I thought my Oppa was smarter than that.

I waited long enough to watch him take a big gulp of the drink, and then I turned around to leave. I didn’t see him coughing or spitting. I didn’t see him drop the bottle and spill the rest of the contents.

I heard the clamor of the crew as they rushed towards him. I heard the other members asking what was going on and what the hell he had just drank. I heard a thud that I can only assume was the sound of Ji-yong hitting the ground.

It was simple, really. The album was titled Paint Me, so I did. I mixed white paint into the bottle of Milkis.

And that’s where you come in, isn’t it? I thought I made a clean getaway, but someone saw something and it was all traced back to me. I wouldn’t put it past Pinky or Blondie to have turned me in. At least, turn in the little information they had on me. Once the news hit, both Pinky and Blondie left our KakaoTalk chat. Pearl deleted her profile entirely.

Well, and here I am. You think that this is the end, but oh no.

With SuperNova’s promotions suspended for the time being, their label decided that this was the perfect opportunity to debut a new girl group. Which just, ugh. Girl groups are so annoying. They try so hard and they’re always showing off. If it wasn’t for mandatory military service disrupting boy groups’ momentum and success, then I don’t think companies would even bother with girl groups.

Anyway, SuperNova’s label was debuting a new girl group called Pink Punk. I wasn’t really paying attention to the teasers because they all looked irritating, but one of them caught my eye: the girl called Shi-won. She looked…familiar. She looked a lot like Pearl.

Well, a lot like Pearl is a bit of a stretch. She looked like if Pearl had gotten double eyelid surgery, a ski slope nose, and her V-line done. And lost a ton of weight. And dyed her hair.

But it makes sense, doesn’t it? Pearl had gotten her hands on every aspect of SuperNova’s schedule. She always knew where they were and when they’d be there. If she was a trainee at their company, then she’d have easy access to that information, right?

And really, how horrifying that a sasaeng managed to become a trainee at the very same label as the objects of her obsession. Did the company not do any background checks on their trainees? Did they not know what their trainees were up to under their roof? This sort of thing is a recipe for disaster. The company has to do a better job of taking care of their artists.

So you understand that it was out of love for Ji-yong and concern for SuperNova that I had to reveal the truth about Pearl. I made some anonymous posts, and that’s all it took. The truth spread like wildfire to every blog and every forum. Last I heard, the company announced that they were looking into things - finally - but I would be surprised if Pink Punk debuts on time. I’d be surprised if Pearl, or Shi-won, or whatever name she’s going by now, will debut at all.

So what’s the charge - attempted murder? That’s a little far-fetched. Ji-yong didn’t drink a lot of the paint mixture. He spilled most of it on the ground. He did spend a few days in the hospital, but he’s out now.

You may be the lawyer, but I know how this will go: the label won’t pursue this. They’ll take into consideration that I’m young and that I have “studies and academic responsibilities.” Sure, that’s part of it. But the truth is that I have bought eighty-six copies of every album SuperNova ever put out. I have bought all the official merchandise the company has offered. Companies clutch their artists tightly, but fans like me have the companies in a chokehold. It’s fans like me who make up most of their profits. It’s fans like me who fund the entire operation. The artists may forget who made them, but the companies never do.

It’s like I said - everyone has their price, even the companies. It’s always a matter of money. Well, almost always. The one exception is me. I can never be bought, and I will never be bought. Ultimately, it’s how I know that my love is the most pure of them all.

June 10, 2023 01:59

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Amanda Lieser
19:58 Jul 13, 2023

Hi Olivia! Congratulations on this well deserved short list! You did an amazing job of tackling the prompt in a creative way because I immediately embodied the lawyer character and imagine sitting across a table in an office, listening to my clients story. Of course, we’ve all been down the rabbit hole that this protagonist has chosen, and I think that this week’s prompts allowed us to examine para social relationships in a whole new light. Your honest take on the price of fame was a refreshing one, and I appreciated that you incorporated th...


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Steve Uppendahl
17:01 Jul 06, 2023

Well, this is quite disturbing - and so well done. Writing this in first person was an excellent move. Having the entire story being a one-sided discussion with a lawyer is also very well done. Obsessed fans are definitely a unique breed. You did a great job giving a voice to one so the reader can see what she thinks, feels, and acts, and why. (The paint in the milk and the reasoning behind it was quite effective.) One quick editing note: in the very beginning when you say, "I'll be level with you" - lose the "be". Again, excellent sto...


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Philip Ebuluofor
12:23 Jun 19, 2023

I like how you describe things with the right words in the right places. I was focused on learning. Congrats.


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17:12 Jun 16, 2023

This is brilliant writing. Riveting. Character voice is perfectly metred and just the right amount of restrained! Loved reading this.


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Mary Bendickson
16:31 Jun 10, 2023

Uh, twisted sister? Thanks for reading and liking my BS&T. Congrats on the shortlist!


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